“Spike!” And she surged to him, flying- literally flying- as he toddled toward her. She caught him up and hugged him close, fresh tears pouring down her face. “Oh, Spike! I'm... I told you I'd see you again, Spike! I told you I told you I told you-”
“I love you, Twilight,” Spike said as he snuggled deep into her chest.
“I love you too, Spike, I love you so much!”
“Heh, good to see y'all all right.”
“Oh, Applejack, it's so wonderful to see you again!” said Fluttershy, fondly rubbing up against her.
“You came just in time, too!” said Pinkie Pie.
“Reckon I did,” said Applejack, looking all around her. “It was a near thing, too, I guess. A snowstorm hit us goin' over the mountains. I was worried we wouldn't get here in time, 'specially since Philip mentioned his scouts had seen that big ol' army headed for the Crystal Empire.”
“Your timing was perfect, Applejack,” said Twilight cheerfully. She took a glance around. The fields were smoking, steaming from the power that had vented on them. Fires burned at odd angles. Of course, all the snow was melted, and the ground was scorched from lighting and from dragonflame. The dragons that had belched the latter now were resting, massive living mountains visible from even this great distance. Ponies, deer, griffins and pronghorns all milled about, laughing, singing, dancing from their joy to be alive. “I can't believe all these races you brought!”
“The dragons were the hardest part,” said Applejack. “Nearly didn't get ol' Ancalagon to sign on.”
Twilight's jaw dropped. “You went to Ancalagon the Black for reinforcements?”
“Yep! In the end, he agreed to help us. Reckoned it was better to hit Reiziger now, than be hit by him later.” She smiled down at Spike. “Spike was a big help.”
“Aww, I didn't do anything special,” said Spike, blushing. “I just told the truth.”
“The truth is super special, Spike!” cried Pinkie, ruffling her lovely wings. “My Uncle Pinkerton always said to never sell the truth short! It's the most impressive thing there is!”
“Lordy, Pinkie! Look at you!” cried Applejack.
“I know!” cried Twilight. “You're... you're a pegasus, Pinkie!”
“Surprise!” she cheered, flapping out her wings. Her body had not changed in size, but now her wings were fully grown. They were gracefully feathered, and they swelled out toward their tips, much like those of a pelican. Pinkie bounced excitedly in place. “Oh my gosh it's so much fun to fly! You get to zoom and swoop everywhere and there's so much wind and clouds and the sun is so bright and beautiful and ohmigosh it's so great!” She jumped up high and pumped her wings repeatedly, cycling the air in swirling bursts of wind.
There were more meetings taking place around the smoking fields. Hammer Hoof, coming to a stop, bowed low. “Princess Celestia,” he said. He inclined his head. “And Princess Luna! An honor.”
When he rose, Celestia and Luna bowed themselves. “King Hammer Hoof,” Celestia said proudly.
“Thy coming is most welcome, O Lord of the Dale,” said Luna.
“I hope we were not too late,” said Hammer Hoof. “It seemed to be a near thing.”
“Thy timing was impeccable. Thou and thy allies hath saved our folk, and our nation too.”
“Ha! I should not have known to come were it not for Applejack,” said Hammer Hoof. “She came and rallied us. She rallied all of us.”
“She is a great and mighty pony,” Celestia said. “So are all the Elements of Harmony.”
“Princesses!” The three ponies wheeled about. Glorfindel came cantering toward them. “Celestia, Luna, there- oh, I am sorry, who are you?”
“This is Hammer Hoof,” Celestia said, “Lord and King of Gildedale.”
Glorfindel bowed low. “I am honored, my lord.”
“Speak, master elk!” said Hammer Hoof.
“We have cornered a dark beast! One of the Herd Lord's special monsters is imprisoned by my fellow Elders. Come, come and see!”
Celestia and Luna exchanged glances. “Lead on, Lord Glorfindel,” said Luna. The three regal ponies followed him into the thronging crowd. Ponies, deer, griffins, and pronghorns parted around them like a sea. It was not long before they felt the pricking of great energy.
They passed through one great group of ponies, and at last they saw it- saw her. The mythicorn was thrashing, writhing up against its prison, a dome of light put up by Nordeshang and Decima and Morta. Its empty purple eyes were flickering like fire, and true fire, real fire colored violet flashed and blazed off of its horn. Even in the brilliance of the morning it was dark as pitch. “Rarity,” whispered Celestia.
“Rarity!” cried Fluttershy, bounding past Celestia. Twilight, Spike, Applejack, and Pinkie followed close behind. Fluttershy advanced toward the barrier. “Oh, Rarity...”
“Careful, Fluttershy,” said Nordeshang. “The barrier will hurt you if you come too close.”
“But... we can fix her. We can fix her!” Fluttershy looked up at Nordeshang with pleading eyes. “That's what we have to do!”
Nordeshang looked carefully at Fluttershy. Then he glanced upon the other ponies. Twilight stepped forward. “She's right, Lord Nordeshang. We'll take it from here.”
“Yep,” said Applejack.
“We sure will!” said Pinkie. “Spike, you're gonna wanna step back.” Nodding, Spike retreated, coming to a halt beside Shining Armor.
Nordeshang nodded. “Very well. Lower the barrier!” His own antlers started flickering.
“But Father Nordeshang-” Morta began.
“We can do nothing for her but contain her, and only for so long. Lower the barrier.”
Morta and Decima exchanged soft glances. “Very well,” Decima said. Their own antlers flashed, and in a flash of light the barrier fell down.
The mythicorn immediately fired off a burst of violet flames. Twilight reared up and repelled it with her own bright magic, then balanced aside and knocked another spell away. “Get at right angles, girls!” she cried. Applejack, Fluttershy, and Pinkie dashed to spots perfectly at firm angles to Twilight, so that the four ponies created a large square around the mythicorn. It snarled and flashed its fire, but the presence of the ponies that were now glinting with light seemed to make it cower.
Focus, thought Pinkie, and her joy and calm seeped into all their minds. They concentrated on their Elements. Applejack bent herself on Honesty. Fluttershy immersed herself in Kindness. Pinkie gave herself to Laughter. Twilight dove deep into Magic. They sank, and rose as well, fully harmonizing with the power at the core of their own souls. Their cutie marks were gleaming, glowing, and suddenly shining brighter than the sun. A gasp of wonder rose from all the creatures watching, for a rainbow started arching overhead, and light began to grow in channels between all four ponies. The mythicorn was frightened; it reared back and whinnied, thinking for a moment to escape. At that very moment blazes of white light shot between all four ponies, forming a great square of gleaming brilliance. The ponies glowed brighter, brighter, brighter-
Blasts of rainbow burst from out their chests. Their cutie marks appeared as gleaming sigils o'er their heads. The rainbows struck the mythicorn and forced it to the ground. It cowered, it curled up, the rainbows rose brighter, brighter, higher, higher, time and space themselves turned inside out, the world was filled with one great rainbow flash-
Soft white light filled the air. The smell of clean water rose in the nostrils of all creatures. Twilight, Pinkie, Applejack, and Fluttershy stepped forward gently to the glowing whitened space. They held their breath. The light fell slowly back...
A white unicorn glanced about, and, seeing the four around her, smiled. “Oh! Hello darlings.”
“Rarity!” the others shouted, wild in their joy. They rushed at her and smothered her in snuggles, nuzzles, and embraces. She leaned into them, glorying to feel their touch again. Spike too pounced forward; Rarity nuzzled him just as much.
“Rarity! Oh, Rarity!” squealed Fluttershy, crushing her against her chest. “Oh, Rarity, it's you! You're safe!”
“Of course I am, Fluttershy,” said Rarity. “How could I be anything but safe and sound with you all?”
“How did Reiziger even catch you, Rarity?” asked Twilight. “How did he put you under his spell?”
“She went to him willingly,” said Falalauria. A gasp rose up. “I have had occasion to bend my Sight on Rarity. I have seen what transpired between Reiziger and her. She went and offered herself to him as a servant.”
“That's ridiculous!” cried Cadence.
“Traitor!” some pony shouted.
“This seems strange,” said Hammer Hoof. “Why should anypony willingly serve the dark lord?”
“Rarity,” said Luna, voice soft, but firm, “Rarity, wouldst thou explain thyself?”
Her friends- her true friends, her five friends, four ponies and one dragon- stared intently at her. Rarity sighed, and bowed her head. “I did go to him. I pledged himself to him of my own free will.”
“No!” cried Pinkie. “No, how could you?”
“Because she saw how things had to be,” said Applejack. “She had a vision. She told me about it. That's why I left, too. She and I both did what we had to do.”
“Rarity, come on,” said Twilight. “You can't have... you actually gave yourself to Reiziger because of a vision?”
Rarity's eyes, such a lovely blue, turned onto Twilight, and grew firm. “Yes, Twilight, dear, I did. You should put more stock in visions. They are stronger than you think.”
“Servant of darkness,” said Glorfindel, thunder rising in his voice, “agent of evil!” He started, forward, antlers glinting-
However, he was blocked by the two red deer sisters. “Let her be,” said Decima.
“She is a traitor!” cried Glorfindel. “She is a servant of the Herd Lord.”
“No,” said Morta, “no, she is not. Or if she was, she is no longer, because her time with him has ended.”
“If she really was a servant of Reiziger's, I...” Shining Armor swung an angry gaze on Rarity, “why? How could you, Rarity?”
“Traitor!” some pony cried.
“Stick her on the rack!” cried another.
“At least banish her!” a third voice rose.
“Shining Armor's question is worth answering,” said Morta.
“It is a question all seers must answer, when their actions are laid bare,” said Decima.
“Indeed,” said Falalauria. “Rarity,” she said gently, “I believe you when you say you had no choice. I think my fellow seers believe, as well.” Decima and Morta nodded. “But Lady Morta is right. Why did you do what you did?”
Eyes by tens of thousands fell on her. Rarity breathed gently. “I had a vision,” she said. “I had a vision of Equestria suffering greatly. I had a vision of Equestria being pushed to the brink of disaster and collapse. I Saw Canterlot crumble. I Saw the beautiful fields and forests turn dead and gray. I Saw ponydom hang by a thread.” Her cutie marks were glinting. “However, I also Saw my friends- my dear friends, my beloved friends- rise to meet the challenges that Reiziger put on them- that I put on them under Reiziger's control. I Saw that Twilight was only the beginning- had to be only the beginning. I knew that if the Elements of Harmony were to grow strong enough to defeat Reiziger once and for all, they would have to be tested. They would have to be put in dire circumstances, in blackest night. The hottest fire forges the strongest steel. That is why I went.”
“So you don't think our Elements.... that we would have gotten as strong as we have without you turning?” asked Fluttershy.
“Yes,” said Rarity. She smiled bitterly. “Oh, maybe it would have happened. Maybe without myself as an antagonist- without being one of the villains of the piece- the drama would still have had a happy ending. However, that was not what my Sight showed me, and I couldn't take the chance that my vision was wrong.” Her cutie marks began to twinkle brightly. “It was a sacrifice worth making.”
“But Rarity... you became an enemy!” cried Twilight. “You threw away the love of everypony!”
“I did throw it away, didn't I?” She chuckled. “All my work, all my outer appearances and business deals... all gone. Who will love me now?” She raised her head higher. “But that is what Generosity is, after all. You must give and give until there is nothing left, and then give of yourself the last of all. Reiziger thinks himself true nothingness. He thinks he's emptiness incarnate. But true emptiness belongs to those who give themselves and everything they have. They pour themselves out for those that need them.” Her triple diamond cutie marks were gleaming bright. She smiled. “But they're not really empty, because the moment they empty themselves- the moment they give all they have- they receive gifts in return greater than anything they might have possessed. To empty oneself is to become full-”
A burst of rainbow blasted all the air. The four ponies around Rarity staggered back, feeling intimately what had taken place.
The thestral writhed and thrashed within its pen.
More soft light came. The smell of clean water emerged again. As the air cleared, Rarity blinked hard. “Oh, my,” she said. “I feel... different.”
“You oughta,” said Applejack. “Give yourself a look-see!”
Rarity stood up, and eyes all round her bulged in wonder. She had grown. She had, like the four other Bearers of the Elements around her, assumed a larger, thinner, far more graceful body. Her horn had grown much longer, and much sharper. Her mane and tail had grown as well, their ringlets now arranged with far more loveliness than any hairdresser could manage. And-
“Rarity!” cried Fluttershy. “Your eyes!”
“Hmm?” asked Rarity. Twilight made a mirror appear, and Rarity glanced into it. “My goodness,” she said softly. Her eyes were still blue, for the most part. However, overlaying all their whites and black pupils and blue irises, there was a layer of stars. As she moved her face, she saw the starscape shift, different patterns and bright constellations growing visible as her head bobbed from side to side. “My word,” she whispered. “I...” she glanced upon her friends. “Oh. Oh!”
“What?” asked Spike.
“Well, it's just... my Gift of Generosity. It works. It really works. I... I can See everything.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Hmph! It's rather fascinating, really.”
The five ponies and one dragon turned round. Celestia and Luna stood before them. Rarity bowed low. “Princess Celestia... Princess Luna... I apologize for all my crimes and sins.”
“I know,” Celestia said. “You are forgiven for all of them.” Another gasp rose up.
“But princess...” said Shining Armor.
“She is forgiven,” said Celestia again. “I believe what you have said, Rarity. I believe you did believe you had no choice. Moreover, I believe you have found success. I believe your gambit has paid off.” She smiled warmly. “I know the way farseers work. I have learned to trust those with sight beyond sight.”
“Thank you, your majesty,” said Rarity. She turned back toward her friends. “Now, for you-”
“Oh, Rarity!” cried Fluttershy, wrapping her again in a tight hug. “Rarity, I do forgive you, I do! I believe you. I believe you did what had to be done!”
“I do too!” said Pinkie. “I don't believe any friend of mine would just turn into a meanie for no good reason! And you're right, it worked!”
Applejack drew close to Rarity and nuzzled her. “I never stopped believin' in you, girl.”
“I believe too!” said Spike. “You're one of the bravest ponies I've ever met, Rarity. You're a hero!”
Rarity turned round to Twilight. She glanced aside a moment. “I...” she looked deep into Rarity's blue, starry eyes. “I...” she saw the constellations and the galaxies go drifting in that infinite dark gaze. “I... do believe you, Rarity.” She wrapped her hooves around her. “And maybe I believe in visions, too. I have to, I suppose.”
“It seems too easy,” muttered Shining Armor.
“Perhaps it does,” said Luna. “Many things look easy on the outside, however difficult they prove to be in fact.”
“Now, Rarity,” Celestia said, “do you feel well? Do you feel healthy?”
“I feel splendid, princess!”
“And you, Applejack? How do you feel?”
“I feel just fine, your majesty.”
“Excellent,” Celestia said. “Your presence will needed within the hour. It is time for us to have a council, to determine what the final act of this great drama will entail.”
Within the hour, Celestia sat at the head of an enormous- truly, truly huge- crystal table in the main dining room of the crystal castle. “So,” she said, “what is our plan of attack?”
“Oh!” said Pinkie, at the other end. She pounded her hoof on the table. “I've got a plan: attack!”
A laugh rose up. In between Celestia and Pinkie there sat such a congregation of nobility and mighty folk as never had been seen within the Crystal Empire. Hammer Hoof, Ashtail, Philip, Clive Croixeus, Decima, Morta, Nordeshang, Glorfindel, Falalauria, Shining Armor, and Cadence were gathered all along the table's length. Celestia and Luna sat together at one end. At the other end were Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Spike. To top things off, one of the four dragons poked its massive head into the window. The air was slightly warm due to its presence.
“In seriousness,” said Luna, “attacking now might not be a bad idea.”
“How do you figure?” Philip asked.
“Reiziger has suffered a tremendous defeat. He has not lost any of his own power, but his confidence- his security- has been shaken. Moreover, he has suffered horrible losses to his forces. He sent so many here, thinking to destroy us utterly, and all have been destroyed themselves. It will take him some time to replenish his armies. The defenses round his castle will be weak.”
“There is still the Herd Lord himself, of course,” said Morta.
“We now have enough mighty folk to check him, at least until he gets angry,” said Luna.
“Well spoken,” said Hammer Hoof. “I agree. Attacking now is best.”
“To what end, though?” asked Glorfindel. “Time and time again it has been proven that the Herd Lord cannot be defeated in battle. Every martial, physical, magical attack on him only makes him stronger.”
Celestia smiled knowingly. “Our forces, and the battle they will do, are mere vessels. They are transports for our real weapon against Reiziger.” She glanced down the table. “Isn't that right, girls?”
Rarity, Twilight, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Applejack exchanged looks. All of them, at once, broke out in smiles. “I think it is right,” said Fluttershy.
“We're ready!” said Pinkie.
“Yes,” said Twilight. “Yes, I think we are.”
“We are indeed,” said Rarity.
“Darn tootin'!” Appelejack exclaimed.
“But what about Rainbow Dash?” asked Glorfindel. “She is still under the Herd Lord's control.”
“We'll handle Rainbow,” said Applejack.
“Just get us close,” said Fluttershy. “We'll do the rest.”
“A SOUND ENOUGH PLAN,” rumbled the dragon in the window. “LET THE ELEMENTS OF HARMONY BE WIELDED.”
A silence fell over the table. “Princess?” Shining Armor asked.
Celestia was looking at the five ponies far down the table. They, in turn, looked back at her. She could see them in ways others could not, save for Luna and perhaps Cadence. At last, she nodded. “So my faith will be vindicated after all.” She banged her hoof, with all its golden filigree, upon the table. “So it will be! In the morning we ride for the depths of Equestria! In the morning we ride for Reiziger's castle, to finish this once and for all!”